May 2017 bring you healthy skin!
A belated happy new year (or a slightly early Chinese one) to all my Vitiligo Friends. I think it is fitting that the coming year is the year of the Rooster. This colourful bird is a perfect example of how marvelous nature's pigments can be and a reminder that we all deserve to enjoy our own unique colouring. I hope that 2017 will bring us all healthy skin (not feathers) and that Rooster-like self-confidence that comes with knowing we are all beautiful in our own way :)
The colours of nature are indeed a miracle. But, as with all miracles of nature, there is a truck load of science behind them. Now, science is not my forte and, whilst I was fortunate enough to receive a good education, I still managed to leave school without really knowing, for example, what an amino acid is.
This is a shame because it turns out that #amino-acids play all kinds of extremely crucial roles in how our body functions, including our ability (or inability) to create healthy pigment. If you are as clueless as I am on the subject of amino acids, what they are, what they do, and what relevance a deficiency or imbalance of them can potentially have then click here for a crash course.
Amino acids are no less than the essential chemical building blocks of life. They are the organic compounds that build proteins and, as such, are used in every cell in our body. These busy little compounds are what build our skin and bones, our muscles, ligaments, hair, teeth, organs… and any other part of the human body I may have left out, including our brain. Needless to say, they play a fundamental role in all our physical and mental functions.
Now that I actually understand something about amino acids and what they do, I am quite surprised that they receive so little popular attention outside of the scientific community. Most of us are pretty well versed in the role of vitamins and minerals and the importance of eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. But ask the average person if they think they have sufficient levels of amino acids, and they will probably give you a sideways look and a wide berth. (The exception to this might be body builders and professional athletes, since most of them have been supplementing with amino acids for years to help improve endurance during workouts and boost muscle recovery.)
The body-builder's interest, though, is generally limited to about 10 amino acids, including lysine, arginine, carnitine and the so-called branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. But there are actually 20 or so amino acids required by the human body for the healthy formation of protein, including its largest organ – the skin. And, like other nutrients, these are categorised into essential (those that cannot be manufactured by the body and therefore are required in the diet) and non-essential (these can be made by the body).
Again, just like other nutrients, a normal, healthy person who eats a well-balanced diet can expect to maintain a healthy level and balance of amino acids naturally. But just as vitiligo sufferers are typically deficient in certain vitamins and minerals – most likely due to poor digestion and inadequate nutritional absorption - a deficiency or inability to utilise amino acids vital to the pigmentation process would seem likely too.
Interestingly, one amino acid in particular is known to be able to help heal "leaky gut", thought by many to be one of the causes of poor nutritional absorption and chronic conditions, including vitiligo. This is #glutamine. So I now take a dose of this amino acid first thing every morning to help protect the lining of my gut and reduce inflammation and IBS symptoms.
There are supplements available that can ensure you are getting enough of all the amino acids. But, of all the amino acids, #Tyrosine is the most closely involved in the production of melanin. (Phenylalanine, as a precursor of tyrosine, is also important.) This explains why it is top of the list of ingredients in “Boost”, one of the two nutritional supplements that helped me to re-pigment my vitiligo. As with all nutrients, amino acids don't work in isolation but rather as part of a “team effort”. In the case of tyrosine, B vitamins are needed to enable the body to utilise tyrosine properly to produce melanin (which is, presumably, why they are included in the formulation of Boost, along with other ingredients like copper and zinc, also known to be involved in the tanning process.
Learning just a little about amino acids has helped me to understand more of the science behind the “miracle” of my re-pigmentation. In addition to the tyrosine content of Boost, I would imagine that the high levels of essential amino acids naturally present in Five a Day+V (the green-food supplement I used, along with Boost) will also have played a role, whereas I had always assumed the key benefits of this green food was its antioxidant and alkalising properties. No doubt the way all these nutrients work together is a lot more complex than anyone knows. Scientists are still learning more about amino acids and exactly how they affect our hormones and all our bodily processes. It is a fascinating subject and is another reminder of how amazing nature is.
So, with that thought in mind, I wish you, once again, the happiest and healthiest of new years and look forward to sharing more information with you on this blog – and to having more conversations with many of you - throughout 2017.
My name is Caroline.